By Scott Lockwood, Venice Gondolier Sun
VENICE — The Venice High School baseball team knew what it were getting into prior to taking on Naples — the state’s No. 1 team in Class 7A — in Tuesday night’s Region 7A-3 semifinal, thanks to nearly a half-dozen scouting trips to see the Golden Eagles (25-4) over the past several weeks.
That extra intelligence gave the Indians the fuel they needed to break open a pitcher’s duel with a late six-run, seven-hit inning that put the game out of reach.
Junior pitcher Caleb Williams and the Venice defense did the rest to cap off a 6-0 win over the Eagles — a team that had won 17 of its last 18 games — in front of a packed house at Venice High School.
The victory put the Indians one win away from becoming the first public school in nearly 70 years to make five straight appearances in the state finals.
Williams and Naples starter Jaret LaCagnina suffocated their opposing team’s offenses over the first four innings, with the Indians picking up a pair of hits and Williams striking out seven Eagle hitters in a quick-moving game.
Matt Vetter broke up Williams’ bid for his second no-hitter of the season with a leadoff single in the top of the fifth. Giovanni DiGiacomo reached on a bunt and Williams would later walk Bryce Watkins to load the bases with one out.
Williams said he was hoping for a double play in that situation but eventually struck Andrew Miller out and forced Doug Belanger to ground out to first to end the scoring threat.
“It ended up going just as well as a double play,” Williams said. “It was a big weight off my shoulders to not allow a run there, and then our offense goes out and put up six runs. That was huge.”
Venice finally got to LaCagnina in the bottom of the inning. Shane Shifflett and Trevor Holloway singled, with Shifflett scoring the game’s first run on a single by Rylee Buckmaster.
The Indians chased LaCagnina out of the game after Tyler Gardner’s single loaded the bases. Reliever Corey Berning fared no better as Brent Killam, returning from an injury earlier in the game, sent two more runs in with an infield single.
Scott Dubrule followed with an RBI double, and Mitch Donofrio capped off the scoring surge with a two-run double down the left field line.
Williams made quick work of Naples over the final two innings and finished with 10 strikeouts, just two hits allowed and one walk — the first free base he’s given up in the regional tournament.
Faulkner had a pretty good idea that Williams would be able to shut down the Eagles after all the scouting trips.
“We got a good look at all their hitters and knew what they could and couldn’t do,” Faulkner said. “Caleb pitched to his strengths, and he was good with his location. We felt pretty strong that if he could hit his spots, he’d be successful.”
Venice (23-5) will travel to Brandon for the regional final on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.